Welfare in Canada
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Last updated: November 2019
This resource is not intended to help individuals identify what government transfers they could be entitled to. Individuals living in British Columbia seeking financial assistance should visit this page.
Components of welfare incomes
Households that qualify for basic social assistance payments also qualify for other financial support including:
- GST/HST credit
- Provincial/territorial tax credits or benefits
- Federal and provincial/territorial child benefits (for households with children)
- Recurring additional social assistance payments (for example, an annual back-to-school allowance)
Together, these combine with basic social assistance payments to form the total welfare income of a household. Households may receive less if they have income from other sources, while some households may receive more if they have special health- or disability-related needs.
The table below shows the value and components of welfare incomes for four household types living in Vancouver in 2018.
|Single person considered employable||Single person with a disability*||Single parent, one child||Couple, two children|
|Basic social assistance||$8,520||$13,601||$12,547||$14,413|
|Additional SA benefits||$35||$659*||$80||$365|
|Federal child benefits||$6,448||$10,801|
|Provincial child benefits||$660|
|Provincial tax credits/benefits||$205||$205||$335||$488|
|Total 2018 income||$9,042||$14,802||$20,782||$27,006|
*This includes the $624 through the Transportation Supplement. Recipients could choose to either receive this as a bus pass or as a $52 per month payment.
Total welfare incomes in British Columbia ranged from $9,042 for the single person considered employable to $27,006 for the couple with two children.
In BC, all of the household types received Income Assistance benefits except for the single person with a disability, who received Disability Assistance benefits. In January 2018, Disability Assistance rates increased by $52 per month for a single person.
On top of basic social assistance, households received additional social assistance benefits, as shown in the table. All households received an annual Christmas Supplement and the couple with two children received an annual School Start-Up Supplement of $100 for the 10-year-old and $175 for the 15-year-old. The person with a disability also received the Transportation Supplement. Recipients could choose to receive this as a bus pass issued through the BC Bus Pass Program, or as a $52 per month payment intended to assist with transportation costs.
Households with children received the Canada Child Benefit which increased in July 2018 from $533 to $541 per month for a child under the age of six and from $450 to $457 per month for a child aged between six and 17. The single parent household also received the provincial Child Benefit, the BC Early Childhood Tax Benefit, which in 2018 provided up to $55 per month for each child under six years.
All households received the GST credit, which increased in July 2018 in line with inflation, and the provincial tax credits: the BC Sales Tax Credit and the BC Low Income Climate Action Tax Credit.
Changes to welfare incomes
The graphs below show how the total welfare incomes for each of the four illustrative household types have changed over time. The values are in constant 2018 dollars, taking into account the effect of inflation as measured by the national consumer price index.
Welfare incomes for both the single person considered employable and the person with a disability followed a similar pattern. Between the mid- 1990s and 2016, they followed a general downward trend, with only a brief increase in the mid-2000s. But since 2016, welfare incomes have risen notably due to regular social assistance rate increases.
The total welfare income of the single person considered employable rose in 2018 as a result of an increase to basic social assistance rates in October 2017. The single person with a disability also benefited from an increase in the Disability Assistance rate in January 2018.
In 2018, a single person considered employable received $9,042 ($732 higher than in 2017) and a single person with a disability received $14,802 ($1,405 higher than in 2017). Despite recent increases, their incomes still fell below 1994, the high point in the time series.
Households with children showed a similar pattern in welfare incomes as their single counterparts, with a notable drop starting in 1995 that continued into the mid-2000s.
Despite small increases in the mid-2000s, welfare incomes gradually fell again until 2014. They rose from 2015 to 2017 because of increases to federal child benefits. In 2018, welfare incomes rose due to an increase to basic social assistance rates beginning in October 2017.
In 2018, a single parent with one child received $20,782 ($532 higher than in 2017) and a couple with two children received $27,006 ($433 higher than in 2017).
Adequacy of welfare incomes
The adequacy of a household’s total welfare income can be assessed by comparing it to a set threshold of low income. In Canada there are three commonly used measures:
- The official poverty measure (also known as the Market Basket Measure or MBM) identifies households whose disposable income is less than the cost of a basket of goods and services that represent a basic standard of living.
- The Low Income Measure of poverty (LIM) identifies households whose income is substantially below what is typical in society (less than half of the median income).
- The Low Income Cut-Off measure (LICO) identifies households that are likely to spend a disproportionately large share of their income on the necessities of food, clothing, and shelter.
The table below shows how welfare incomes in British Columbia for the four household types compared to three low income thresholds (after tax). Because LICO and MBM thresholds vary by community size, the threshold used is for Vancouver.
|Single person considered employable||Single person with a disability||Single parent, one child||Couple, two children|
|Total welfare income||$9,042||$14,802||$20,782||$27,006|
|MBM threshold (Vancouver)||$20,684||$20,684||$29,251||$41,367|
|Welfare income minus MBM threshold||-$11,642||-$5,882||-$8,469||-$14,361|
|Welfare income as % of MBM||44%||72%||71%||65%|
|LIM threshold (Canada-wide)||$24,054||$24,054||$34,017||$48,108|
|Welfare income minus LIM threshold||-$15,012||-$9,251||-$13,235||-$21,101|
|Welfare income as % of LIM||38%||62%||61%||56%|
|LICO threshold (Vancouver)||$21,481||$21,481||$26,143||$40,614|
|Welfare income minus LICO threshold||-$12,439||-$6,679||-$5,361||-$13,608|
|Welfare income as % of LICO||42%||69%||79%||66%|
For each household type, the maximum welfare income fell well below all of the low income measures. As a proportion, the biggest gap was for single adults considered employable — their welfare income was between 38 per cent and 44 per cent of the low income thresholds. The smallest gap was for single parents with one child — their welfare income was between 61 per cent and 79 per cent of the low income thresholds.